Proximity

Insight | February 2017

Proximity
Image: ‘Two Houses’ by Beata Dagiel

When we discuss proximity in law, there is frequently divided opinion as to (i) just what is meant, and (ii) in what context such a term can be properly applied. By definition, tort cases almost always rely upon proximity when establishing the claimant-defendant relationship, the relative distance between the two parties, and finally any subsequent obligatory considerations shared. Though for the sake of clarity, let us begin first with the Oxford Dictionary definition of proximity:

Noun [mass noun] nearness in space, time or relationship

Origin: Late 15th century from the French ‘proximité and Latin proximatas, proximus (meaning nearest).

While this explanation appears relatively straightforward, the complexities of human interaction often magnify the context of its use, insomuch as subjective opinion will almost always complicate matters, and leave final judgments in degrees of contention. This is largely due to a collective inability to agree precisely where proximity fits, and how it connects with other strands of legal principle.

Early illustrative proof of the need for exactness would undoubtedly be the speech given by Lord Pearce in Hedley Byrne Co Ltd v Heller and Partners which reads:

“[P]roximity will not be established unless at least the following conditions are satisfied….the plaintiff must be (i) the person directly intended by the maker of the statement to act upon the statement (ii) in a specific transaction of which the maker knows and (iii) for the purpose for which the statement is made. Exceptionally conditions (i) and (iii) may be relaxed provided the plaintiff is a person of whose actual existence (if not name) the maker knows, to whom he knows the statement will be communicated, and who it is likely with a high degree of certainty will act upon the statement in a specific transaction of which the maker knows.”

Or the even earlier words of Lord Atkin’s ‘neighbour’ speech in Donoghue v Stevenson:

“[S]uch close and direct relations that that the act complained of directly affects a person whom the person alleged to be bound to take care would know would be directly affected by his careless act.”

Or, an even simpler definition would be that:

“The claimant must be in an established relationship with the defendant and able to prove that any existing duty of care applied to them, whether through action, inaction or words”

Whichever phrase suits best, the typical contexts for proximity can range from customer and seller, through to diner and chef. In fact, the list of possible scenarios could quickly prove lengthy, yet despite changes in issue, the essence of proximity remains undiluted.

However, the general context of proximity deviated when through the course of accident and tragedy, the witnesses to those sudden and unforeseen events began to claim that the distress and trauma of such emotionally crippling scenes commanded financial assistance from the courts through damages. In those instances, the fluid definition of proximity was echoed  by Lord Wilberforce in McLoughlin v O’Brian, who said:

“Where the relationship between the person killed or physically injured and the person who suffers nervous shock is close and intimate, not only is there the requisite proximity in that respect, but it is readily defensible on grounds of policy to allow recovery.”

Taken further still, the emergence of ‘secondary’ nervous shock forced the principle of proximity into new territory, this time allowing those indirectly receiving terrible news to seek a claim for award under the umbrella of proximation, albeit subject to specific criteria, as defined by Lord  Oliver in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, who remarked:

“What remains in issue is whether the defendant owed any duty in tort to the plaintiffs to avoid causing the type of injury which each plaintiff complains. In essence this involves answering the twin questions of (a) whether injury of this sort to each particular plaintiff was a foreseeable consequence of the acts or omissions constituting the breach of duty to the primary victim and (b) whether there existed between the defendant and each plaintiff that degree of directness or proximity necessary to establish liability.”

Here, we see a variance in application of the principle of proximity, and one that demonstrated a generosity of scope over that regulated within everyday examples of arms-length dealings. Whether this broadening stemmed from the degree of harm, or was simply the choice of the courts to extend empathy toward genuine loss, is not easily traceable, but there are now notable differences.

Contrastingly, in the United States, the ‘dangerous proximity test’ is one used to determine criminal liability at federal and state levels. The two key principles being (i) that the defendant was dangerously close to completing the crime, or (ii) so close as to a result that the danger was great. The test itself, was first laid down in 1901, and later adopted by a Judge Learned Hand and read:

“(P)reparation is not an attempt. But some preparations may amount to an attempt. It is a question of degree. If the preparation comes very near to the accomplishment of the act, the intent to compete it renders the crime so probable that the act will be a misdemeanour, although there is still a locus poenitentiae, in the need of a further exertion of the will to complete the crime.”

While under the Turkish laws of contract, the ‘principle of proximity’ comes into effect where non-specification of parties applicable laws during cross-border transactions leaves the courts with the option to default to the nearest jurisdiction, with the effect of establishing implied and express contractual terms, as was explained by Dr. Gülin Güngor in 2008.

So again and as before, proximity is regularly used to help establish liability, reduce conflict and this time bring levity to matters that might otherwise become bogged down in their own rhetoric. With diverse applications of this flexible principle proving it an inarguable necessity, it concludes that the footnote of this article is really one that suggests proximity is far from a fair weather friend to law and jurisprudence; and that perhaps it deserves to play a greater role in resolving more disputes than is currently afforded access to?

Global Law

Insight | February 2017

Global Law
Image: ‘Unity’ by Unknown Artist

The idea of a ratified ‘global law’ is a concept that once seemed fantastical, and yet by all accounts, appears now like the primary ingredient to social, industrial and civil equilibrium.

But how does this happen, and what steps might be needed to preserve the needs of the many from the wants of the few? To date, the concept of a single law is more convincing than any suggestion that genuine efforts are being taken to construct a jurisdiction without physical bounds, however it fails to prevent visionaries from imagining such a world, or pondering what form that framework might take.

Giuliana Ziccardi Capaldo, Full Professor of International Law at the University of Salerno Italy, discussed her idea of global law in 2015, and chose to use a web-like hierarchy to describe how each individual player would forge alliance with the next, because in her opinion:

“Global law is elastic enough to integrate the heterogeneous elements of the various and different legal orders into a unitary framework. It is up to the community of international legal scholars/lawyers to manage the complexity in the unit of the web of the global law system; the unitary framework retains the flexibility to allow for respecting the diversity of the plurality of embodied legal orders.”

Yet regardless of how one might perceive an ideology, the sheer scale of expectation asked of legal mega-firms and governmental bodies still seems disproportionate to the discipline required to undertake it. Having investigated current online debate, the results are discouraging to say the least, and when the world’s highest grossing law firm Latham & Watkins LLP offers no visible research, or even discussion of a unitary law, it suggests that perhaps the practice industry think-tanks are predisposed to monitoring investment strategies, over any notion that we may well be walking headlong into dispensation of justice from a centralised platform.

On a smaller scale, the benefits of a singular jurisdiction were recently implemented in October 2016 within Northern Ireland, and while not exactly a transcontinental shift, the objectives become evident, even if only from an administrative level, as was explained in a document published by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service (NICTS), which said:

“There will no longer be County Court Divisions or Petty Sessions Districts and all relevant court documents have been amended to reflect this. The words “County Court Division of….” And “Petty Sessions District of……”will no longer appear on any court order or other documentation as court templates have been adapted.”

Whereas in the United Kingdom, we have a groundswell of opposition to the presence of Sharia laws, and if there was ever a reason for the unification of law, this concept would surely warrant a compelling body of evidence against the secular nature of unregulated doctrine.

Formed as part of this resistance, the website onelawforall.org.uk, is built upon a collective determination to remove the propagation of inequality through religious laws, in hope of the reestablishment of democratic values. This growing objection has been defined through a powerful rhetoric, claiming simply that:

“Sharia law is discriminatory and unjust, particularly against women and children.
Sharia courts in Britain are a quick and cheap route to injustice and do nothing to promote minority rights and social cohesion.”

It is suggested that the oppressive effects of this ancient law have been felt through gender specificity, which is not an ideology that could ever hope to find its way into the annals of any ‘new world’ law; and yet because there is no such codification, legal splinter factions are left free to flourish within the confines of domestic legislature.

In India, the application of a single industry law appears to provide huge benefits to small-scale factory owners, desperately trying to navigate the legal loopholes that strangle economic growth and preserve monopolisation.

With the design of improving manufacturing processes, the labor ministry created new legislation in order to overcome the problems faced by the nations entrepreneurs and workers alike, as explained by Mahendra Singhi, in her article for the Times of India:

“At present, small units have to comply with 44 Central labour laws and over 100 state laws…which discourages them to hire workers from the organized sector, and thus denying them basic rights…the government hopes that a single unified law will ensure less cost to the owner and better minimum wages, bonus and maternity benefits to the workers.”

It would seem for now at least, that while unitary rule and governance is constitutionally, commercially and quasi-socially acceptable, the thought of, or preclusion to, entrustment of a law written to serve a race of people, is both a bridge too far and paradoxically swept from the agenda; which while sounding trite in its definition, ought not mislead readers into believing a world law of some kind is not too far beyond our horizon.

This then raises the question of were a unitary law to become a reality, then how would those changes begin to materialise? Will a spark of legal renaissance ignite from within the people, or will the centralisation of power emanate from the core of contributory states?

Contrastingly, does commerce now helm the wheel of judicial evolution, or is politics driving that bus? In the latter event, it seems that the lines frequently blur, so recipients of information inevitably become less concerned with socio-political commentary than the motives underlying it, although whichever sector pushes first for answers, the time for such legal reimagining is overly ripe for discourse.

 

 

Donoghue v Stevenson (1932)

English Tort Law

Donoghue v Stevenson
Image: ‘Ginger Ale’ by Robert Langford

In this case, the principle of negligence beyond the strictness of contractual duty becomes pivotal to a claim for damages, when a consumer becomes victim to sickness through the consumption of a contaminated beverage.

In 1928, two friends entered a café in central Scotland and proceeded to order some ice-cream and ginger beer. Unknown to the appellant, one of the bottles provided contained the decomposed remains of a snail, which when poured onto the ice-cream, left the appellant in a state of shock, and later subjected to gastro-enteritis, having partially drunk the ginger beer beforehand.

This resulted in litigation on grounds concerning (i) the manufacturer’s inability to safely store the bottles prior to their filling, (ii) a lack of care when considering the potential for those drinks to be consumed by unwitting customers, (iii) failure to implement a suitable quality control/inspection system prior to distribution, and (iv) failure to use clear, as opposed to dark opaque bottles, to avoid such events.

Although the common law position was comparable between English and Scottish law, the claim was unique in that it circumvented the contractual obligations often found in negligence claims. The court in the first instance had allowed the claim, while the Second Divisional court dismissed it by a majority, before the appellant sought relief in the House of Lords.

Here, a number of recent cases were explored, so as to ascertain the extent of liability in matters where there are no contractual obligations. Erring on the side of restraint as to how far a claim such as this might extend, comments mades by Parke B in Longmeid v Holliday suggested that:

“It would be going much too far to say, that so much care is required in the ordinary intercourse of life between one individual and another, that, if a machine not in its nature dangerous, . . . . but which might become so by a latent defect entirely unknown, although discoverable by the exercise of ordinary care, should be lent or given by one person, even by the person who manufactured it, to another, the former should be answerable to the latter for a subsequent damage accruing by the use of it.”

However in George v Skivington, the sale of harmful shampoo, which had been used not by the purchaser but a third party, had allowed claim for negligence caused upon a duty of care by the manufacturer when mixing the ingredients; while in Francis v Cockerell, a racecourse spectator injured through the collapse of a viewing stand, was able to recover not from the builder himself, but the agent of the venue.

On this occasion, the appellant relied upon the words of Lord Brett MR in Heaven v Pender, who clarified that:

“[W]henever one person is by circumstances placed in such a position with regard to another that every one of ordinary sense who did think would at once recognize that if he did not use ordinary care and skill in his own conduct with regard to those circumstances he would cause danger of injury to the person or property of the other, a duty arises to use ordinary care and skill to avoid such danger…”

Therefore it was argued that regardless of contractual elements, there was, by virtue of reasonableness and decency, an inherent encumbrance upon the respondent manufacturer to both evaluate and consider the position of the consumer when preparing and sealing his drinks, and that anything less than that consideration was tantamount to fundamental neglect and tortious liability.

Contrastingly, in Pender Esher LJ had also argued that:

“The question of liability for negligence cannot arise at all until it is established that the man who has been negligent owed some duty to the person who seeks to make him liable for his negligence. What duty is there when there is no relation between the parties by contract? A man is entitled to be as negligent as he pleases towards the whole world if he owes no duty to them.”

While in Bates v Batey & Co Ltd, the manufacturers of ginger beer were not deemed liable for an injury caused to an unsuspecting consumer from a defect unknown, and yet discoverable through reasonable investigation.

Having evaluated the reluctance of the courts to extend in some instances, while offering generous judgment in others, it was, albeit by a narrow margin, decided that despite no contractual duties to envisage the effects of a contaminated product upon an innocent purchaser, there was an almost ethical prerequisite to remain diligent in the preparation and storage of such substances. And so despite the abject refusal by the Second Division of the Court of Session in Scotland to acknowledge the appellant’s rights, the House reversed the finding and restored the order of the first judge.